An understanding of the built environment and the careers it offers must be seeded at an early age, urges Siu-Pei Choi
The housing developer I work for has recently distributed 2,000 free books to schoolchildren. No, you didn’t read that wrong – it delivered books, not homes. The company didn’t change sector overnight to become a book publisher, and it is of course still delivering new homes across London and the country. But as well as building with bricks and mortar, it has begun a journey in building the workforce, addressing the shortfall of construction industry professionals. It is beginning this journey by reaching out to schoolchildren with a new book, What Do Construction Workers Do?
Aimed at key stage 2 – that is, seven- to 11-year-olds – the book aims to demystify what working in construction means, introducing to schoolchildren the opportunities within the industry. Not surprisingly, bricklayers are featured – every child’s imagination can go this far. But as well as this are the hidden professions people often overlook when thinking about construction, including surveyors, site managers and, yes, architects.
By providing a short explanation of various roles, it gives children a brief overview of the wide range of jobs within the industry. The book is a simple guide to introduce children to construction at an early age and sow the seed in their young minds that this is an industry open to them.
As many professions look to widen their base to become more inclusive, it is time for us too to reach out to the next generation of potential architects, and not only as older teenagers making the choice of universities – by which time it is too late to influence the choices made long ago – but to younger children as they start to learn the vocabulary of work.
Even a young child understands the role and importance of doctors. So too could they understand the role and importance of architects.
By reaching out in this broad way, architects can engage with an extensive range of children from all backgrounds, regardless of socio-economic group. For those whose parents might not otherwise view architecture as a job they would encourage their children to do, it will enable them to see the possibilities – and, more importantly, to feel as though it is something to which they are entitled to aspire.
Authoring a book and distributing it to children within the communities where we work is just one way we can sow the seeds of beginning an architectural education. There is also visiting schools, giving talks and presentations, engaging in workshops with schools, community groups and youth centres, taking on work experience students – and these are just a few ideas.
If architecture is to remain relevant, we must also as a profession ensure that the public see and understand its importance, firstly by demonstrating the positive impact good architecture can have, but secondly, showing that the built environment is already a big part of their lives. Just as even a young child understands the role and importance of doctors, so too could they understand the role and importance of architects.
At 10, I might have had a better understanding of what I had set myself up for if someone had come to my school with a book titled What Do Architects Do?
I was already 10 years old by the time the seed of becoming an architect was planted in my mind – by happenstance, as I quite literally stumbled across a soaring skyscraper, nearing (what I now know as) practical completion. It was a dream that I held on to as I went through secondary school, then became a realistic target as I took my leap into university.
At 10, I might have had a better understanding of what I had set myself up for if someone had come to my school with a book titled What Do Architects Do? So come on, let’s start spreading the word and become authors to inspire children, and set the next generation of 10-year-olds on the path to understand, appreciate and maybe one day become architects.
Siu-Pei Choi is an architect and contractor